Philip Ingrassia took the story apart. He drew flow charts. He wrote short essays. He reflected, meditated.
“It’s part of how I personally approach my roles,” Ingrassia said. “What better way to go back and do some homework.”
This role requires particular attention, because it’s a first. Tonight, the Columbia City Ballet will premiere its production of “The Little Prince,” and Ingrassia is dancing the title role. Every dancer has a routine for absorbing and taking a possession of a character and Ingrassia takes a studied approach.
“Usually, when I get any sort of role, I want to first find out the other mediums that its been portrayed in, how it forms the character,” Ingrassia said. “The more you know, the more subtleties you can bring to it.”
Ingrassia carries a journal with him at all times so he can record his thoughts on roles.
“It’s always kind of back there,” he said. “I think I’m actually processing all the time, but it’s when I put it on the paper that I mold the thought.”
For his research, Ingrassia went back to the text. Published in 1943, “The Little Prince” is a novella written by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a French writer and aviator. Saint-Exupery also painted the watercolor illustrations in the novella that is said to be the most translated French language book.
In “The Little Prince,” a pilot crashes in the Sahara desert. He meets a young boy, who he refers to as the little prince. While the pilot attempts to repair his plane, the prince shares stories of his life and travels, starting with his existence on an asteroid and his visits to other asteroids. Other characters the prince encounters in the desert include a fox and a snake. The latter helps the prince return to his asteroid so he can be with his rose, a flower he loves. In fact, the prince was on the journey because he felt the rose was using him.
Saint-Exupery, himself, was a pilot who once survived a plane crash in the Sahara and almost died of dehydration.
“It was very powerful to me,” Ingrassia said of the book. “As an artist, I wanted to do everything to bring that character to life because there’s so much in the text that’s left unspoken.”
When he first read the novella in December, Ingrassia felt the story was about the little prince’s journey. His feelings changed when he re-read it several weeks ago.
“The prince is more so the voice of the pilot,” he said. “The prince is sort of the soul, the spirituality of the pilot.”
Scholars believe that the rose in “The Little Prince” was inspired by Saint-Exupery’s wife. Ingrassia saw the story as a reflection of his relationship with his fiancée Autumn Hill, a CCB company member. The couple have been dating for more than eight years, Ingrassia said. (Ingrassia stressed that, unlike Saint-Exupery, he did not cheat on his rose.)
“There ended up being a time I thought that I needed to separate myself from her to find myself,” he continued. “I had this time when I chose to leave. I ended up making poor choices in my life and I ended up crash landing.
“I ended up being the luckiest man in the world that she would take me back.”
Artistic director William Starrett choreographed the ballet to French composer Jules Massenet’s score. Ingrassia, who said he was humbled to be considered for the role, has reduced the story to its simplest form.
“Really all that matters in the end is the relationship between people and the love you have for them,” he said.
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.